Mates of State, Free Energy Warehouse Live July 8, 2010
There's nothing like getting ripped from your lemon grass tofu because there's a magician opening a Mates of State show. Aftermath was sitting down like a real, live human being eating dinner when Twitter lit up with people watching a kid juggling and balancing a sword on his chin.
Of course by the time we paid our bill, local magician Carter Blackburn was already offstage. To be honest we wish more touring bands hired local magic acts to open shows. It would boost drink sales early on and it's just good old-fashioned show business ethos that you always have a magician warm up a crowd for married indie-rock bands.
The first real musical opener, Free Energy, channeled Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy and a swatch of T. Rex for their hour-long set. From opening song and band mission statement "Free Energy," the Philadelphia-based five-piece played a good deal of this spring's debut LP Stuck on Nothing. The album was produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, and his touch is felt live and on record. "All I Know" has Bolan all over it, sounding like "Mambo Sun" recast as 21st-century roller-rink rock.
Mates of State has always struck us as a "couples" band, the kind you listen to while you are both cleaning the apartment or putting together a new shelving unit. But that doesn't diminish from the indie-crunch of what Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel do live. After Thursday night, we seem to prefer the duo in a live setting much more than on record. It seems their tunes get more breathing room and can expand in a room rather than on your stereo.
The band grew to be a four-piece on most songs, with a guitarist and trumpeter in the background. The patchwork MOS tapestry they played in front of made the studio room at Warehouse Live feel homey, as if we were all really just hanging out in the band's living room or garage.
This tour's set lists are heavy on covers, with the band's recent digital covers album Crushes (The Covers Mixtape) just hitting the Internet last month. Thursday, the Houston crowd got more than enough covers, rounded out by some choice original Mates cuts from their catalog, including two new songs still being tinkered with. The first one was dubbed the "Unicorn Song," while the second was only referred to as the "dark" one. Admittedly, we dug the latter much more.
As for the covers, they did a take on Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End" that captured the vision of the song nicely, and a stab at Tom Waits' "Long Way Home" as well. The couples dynamic fit those two covers like a glove, with some in the crowd doing the sway together. The Girls and Death Cab For Cutie cuts kind of evaporated.
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Our favorite cover of the night by far, though, was "I Will Dare" from the Replacements' second-best album, Let It Be. Hammel got from behind his drumkit for that one and sang with Gardner face-to-face, like a new-school Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra. The night was like the duo taking you on a road trip and giving you the lay of their iPod in between tales about married life and pit-stops at Buc-ee's.
A friend of ours said halfway through the gig that the band's sound made them want to do good deeds for people, and we can totally see that. Smiles got wider everywhere all through the night.
As for Aftermath, it really made us break out our Mats vinyl when we got home.
For more photos from the concert, check out our slideshow.